Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Prime Day makes a great phone cheaper

£689
Price when reviewed

Providing juice for all of this is a non-removable 3,000mAh battery. For those keeping track, that’s the same size as was found in the Galaxy S7, which raises an interesting question: will it have more or less stamina? The larger screen would indicate less, but the efficiency of components would suggest more.

In the end, the answer is that’s it’s weaker, but not by much. In our battery test – which involves playing a looped video with the screen set to 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode engaged – it lasted an impressive 16hrs 45 mins. That’s good, but it’s around an hour worse than the Samsung Galaxy S7 (17hrs 48mins) and two hours weaker than the S7 Edge (18hrs 42mins).

Better still, the phone comes bundled with a fast charger to ensure it won’t take you long to get your phone back up to full power when you do manage to exhaust it. How fast is fast? In half an hour, we observed the phone go from flat to 37%. That’s quick, but not quite as fast as the OnePlus 3T with its promised “day’s worth of power in half an hour”. Perhaps Samsung didn’t want to push it, given the battery problems the Note 7 notoriously endured.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Software

The Samsung Galaxy S8 comes with Android N straight out of the box, as you’d expect. It isn’t the cleanest version of Android I’ve seen, still coated with a thin film of Samsung’s TouchWiz skin. It’s far less intrusive than it used to be, however, and I’ve found it fine to navigate in my time with the phone.

Regarding software, this is as much a Google product as a Samsung one, with each smartphone behemoth granted a folder of apps in the app drawer. The Google folder contains Drive, Play Movies, Duo and Photos, while Chrome, Play Music and Gmail are left floating in the app drawer. The Samsung apps tend to be duplicates of Google’s: an email app, an internet browser, a note-taking app and so forth. Microsoft also gets a folder of its own with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive and Skype all installed by default.

It isn’t too bloated, but plenty of this will be unwelcome on your brand-new phone – and it’s a mixed bag as to how much of the storage you can reclaim. Google apps can be uninstalled freely, but around half of the Samsung apps and all of the Microsoft, ones can only be disabled, not correctly uninstalled, which is a bit unfortunate since they run into the hundreds of megabytes. This isn’t such a big deal with microSD support, but some apps and games are still fussy about being movable to expandable storage.

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There are a few other things worth noting. The curved edges are now the default, which hopefully means that Samsung and its developers will have more incentive to use them inventively. For now, the functions are pretty familiar – which is to say they’re useful-ish but gimmicky. You have a panel on the right-hand side that can be pulled across showing a list of customisable apps, your favourite contacts, or a utility that allows you to capture a bit of what’s going on on the screen as a screenshot, a shaped cut-out or even an animated GIF. It’s probably too hidden away for casual users and unnecessary for power users who already know their way around the various Android shortcuts, but it’s nice if you like to keep a minimalist home screen.

Then there’s face unlock, an addition to the fingerprint- and iris-recognition available on the Samsung Galaxy S7. Register your photo with the S8, and you should be able to unlock the handset without having to find the fingerprint reader or tap in your password. It works better on bright days, I’ve found, and it does feel a bit magical – although there’s been some talk of it being fooled by printed photos, which I suppose makes you marginally less secure if you’re interesting enough to hack. I like it, but I’m glad I don’t have to rely on it as the only way of accessing my phone – basically, it’s a pleasant surprise when it works. Simple things, eh?

Finally, there’s Bixby: Samsung’s AI. To be honest, at this point making such a song and dance about it feels like a misstep, since it feels pretty limited right now. Still, Samsung has at least now rolled out Bixby voice in the UK after initially holding things back and it works in a similar way to Google’s Assistant technology and Amazon’s Alexa. The one key difference is that Bixby can access various phone settings such as Wi-Fi in addition to being able to answer questions, launch apps, play media and carry out basic tasks such as setting reminders and timers and responding to email.

Bixby Voice can be activated saying “hey Bixby” or by pressing and holding the Bixby button on the left edge of the phone. Alternatively, a short click on the button gets you to the Bixby screen, which feels a little like HTC’s old Blinkfeed system, drawing in news, photos and apps from your system. And Bixby invades other parts of the Galaxy S8, too. On the camera, you can focus on an object, and then let the AI look for shopping results or image results. Shopping never worked for me, and image results were a mixed bag. Sometimes, it worked well…

Other times less so…

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And at other points, it was just plain baffling:samsung_galaxy_s8_review_-_bixby_-_1

There’s one more interesting thing that the S8 brings – the Samsung DeX. This is a dock in which the S8 or S8 Plus can sit, outputting to a monitor with a desktop-style experience. Plug in a keyboard and mouse, and you’re away. That sounds a bit like Microsoft’s Continuum, only without Windows 10, doesn’t it? Isn’t that a recipe for failure? 

Surprisingly not. It’s remarkably capable and plenty fast. Individual apps appear as windows, allowing you to multitask effectively, and work pretty smoothly. We were able to use the S8 as a work laptop for a whole day, only having to drop out briefly to do some RAW image editing on Photoshop. Other than that, it works better than Microsoft’s effort, which felt a touch sluggish. It does come at a price though: DeX costs £129, which seems a lot for something which is essentially a fancy docking station. And no, you can’t just plug in a generic cable and get the same results. The feature only seems to work with DeX – we did try other connections, and the S8 didn’t respond at all.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Camera

On paper, the camera is one area that doesn’t receive much attention, with Samsung adopting the “if it ain’t broke, then for God’s sake don’t touch it” approach. That’s sensible: the S7’s camera was about as far from being broke as it’s possible to be, second only to the Google Pixel regarding quality.

So it’s still a 12-megapixel affair, with a f/1.7 aperture with a 1/2.55in sensor and 1.4um pixels. While the hardware is the same, there are other upgrades afoot: the most obvious of these is that it now takes three shots in quick succession and combines them into a better picture. The results are, as you might imagine, outstanding.

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In conditions with plenty of light, the pictures are sharp, vibrant and full of detail. In trickier, low-light conditions, the Galaxy S8 copes brilliantly. Again, no surprise given its predecessor was also a stellar performer.[gallery:10]

(A photo from the S8 is on the left, while the same shot from the S7 is on the right)

It isn’t a huge difference, but zoom in, and it’s noticeable. The contrast is slightly better, and the colours feel a touch richer. It’s not night and day, but this edges it a little closer to the Pixel.
In low light, the performance was even better than the S7, with much less blurring when you zoom in for a sharp, colourful image.

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However, we did notice some strange artifacts on a couple of the shots. Look at the paint pallette on the picture above – now see what happens when we zoom in:

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We don’t know what’s going on here. It isn’t always present, and it’s entirely possible it’s an issue with our review handset (our sister site, Expert Reviews, had no such problem with its model), or a software issue that will be fixed by Samsung in the coming weeks. For now, it’s a small but disappointing blight on an otherwise brilliant camera.

Speaking of software, this has been tweaked to make it easier to use one-handed: you can now drag the shutter button up and down to zoom in and out, and the mode buttons and live filters are clustered at the bottom of the screen when you use the phone in portrait mode. Digging under the surface a little, the Pro mode has focus peaking – an aid to manual focusing where you can see what’s in focus with a green outline. Very neat indeed, but as with the LG G6, this feature isn’t available while shooting video, which is where it would be most handy.

It’s also worth noting that if the camera is all that appeals to you, and you don’t fancy a dedicated DSLR camera, the camera module now appears in Lenovo’s Moto G5 Plus, and while the software isn’t as well implemented, the device costs only £250. Obviously, that price comes with other limitations, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

The front-facing selfie camera gets a bigger upgrade. This has gone from five megapixels to eight, and the results are suitably sharp. Plus, you now have Snapchat-style filters, so if you’ve ever wondered what I’d look like as a heavily airbrushed rabbit then today is your lucky day:

So, is the camera an improvement? Modestly, yes, but it isn’t the kind of development that you should cash in your S7 contract for.

Samsung Galaxy S8 vs. S8 Plus

So the Samsung Galaxy S8 is a brilliant but expensive phone – but how does it compare against the S8 Plus? In the past, mini Samsung handsets have disappointed when compared to their larger siblings, after all.

Well, the good news is that the S8 is identical to the S8 Plus, aside from the obvious: the S8 Plus has a bigger screen. The resolution is the same, so it is just for people who prefer more to look at, and more to hold. 

Internally the S8 and S8 Plus are identical, other than that, barring a slightly larger battery to cover the extra power expenditure the added size. And yes, the 3,500mAh battery of the S8 Plus did give us 20 hours and 33 minutes of battery in our test – a substantial improvement over the S8’s 16 hours and 45 minutes.

READ NEXT: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Verdict

Over 3,000 words later (a personal high-five to everyone who read every one of them), what’s the take home? Well, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is comfortably the best phone I’ve ever used. It’s fast, looks great, has a fantastic camera and has a screen that will do any photos captured justice.

There are a couple of missteps – the fingerprint scanner is in a silly place that will lead to many a smudged lens, and Bixby feels underdeveloped – but for the most part, this is a product from a company at the top of its game.

The question is: do you need this much phone? For most people, probably not – the price is very high, and the gap between what budget and top-end smartphones can do is shrinking by the month.

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That said, if you want the best of the best, then this is it – and the cost is already beginning to fall dramatically. After starting out at nigh-on £700, (as of September 2017) the S8 can be had now for more over £100 less at around £550. 

That’s still hardly dirt cheap and, if you want a great phone without the wallet endangering price tag, then the OnePlus 5 is a better bet … just. If you want the best of the best, however, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the phone for you.

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